Driving golfers to distraction

Carts: City-owned courses have a new "cart in every group" policy, and those who walk resent having to pay more.

January 15, 2000|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Some golfers at Baltimore's municipal courses are teed off over a new requirement that they take a cart with them when they play.

These golfers -- who have been hoofing it from hole to hole for years, carrying their clubs or hauling them in small hand-pulled carriers -- are upset over the regulation that took effect Jan. 1 at the four 18-hole city-owned courses. It requires every group to have at least one cart equipped with a satellite-linked computer.

Officials of Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp., the nonprofit organization that runs the courses, say they instituted the rule to help them better monitor course backlogs and speed the pace of play, and to help them better communicate with golfers if there is an emergency.

The "walkers" complain that they are being forced to pay substantially more under a new flat-rate fee structure that includes the cost of renting the cart to play a round of golf, but are enjoying it less.

"It's unfair," said Bob Bauer, 65, one of a group of retired Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers who play three times a week year-round at Clifton Park, where the rate for senior walkers teeing off before 9 a.m. has risen from $8.50 last year to $14.50. "As seniors, we're all on fixed incomes."

"It's terrible," said Fred Trail, 62, another member of the group, which is known as the Gashouse Gang. "You want to get your exercise. That's the healthy part of golf, the exercise."

Jon W. Ladd, the corporation's director of golf, said he is sympathetic about the additional costs but that the new fees at Clifton Park, Forest Park, Mount Pleasant and Pine Ridge are a bargain compared with those at other courses.

"We're not going deep into anyone's pockets," he said.

Rather than gouge the golfers, Ladd said, the satellite-linked system, which displays on a terminal in the carts such information as the distance between the ball and the green, is an attempt to increase service.

"It's the exclusive property of high-end resorts," he said of the system, which was used at Clifton Park last year and is in use now at the other three courses.

Ladd said speeding up play is a priority as the number of rounds played has increased 20 percent this decade at the city's 18-hole courses and at the 12-hole Carroll Park course, which is not affected by the new policy.

"Any amount of time you can cut off is going to be a positive thing," he said.

Judy Thompson, spokeswoman for the National Golf Foundation, said Baltimore appears to be in a small minority of cities requiring golf carts at city-owned courses.

Of 300 municipalities responding to a recent survey by the nonprofit trade association in Jupiter, Fla., 2 percent said they required carts at all times, Thompson said. A third required them at certain times, and two-thirds didn't require them at all, she said.

Thompson said she is not surprised Baltimore's new policy is stirring dissent.

"Any time you require somebody to do anything, there's going to be somebody to object to it," she said.

Not everyone objects. Those who have always used carts, an estimated 70 percent of the courses' golfers, are happy, especially because their fees have gone down slightly under the new flat-fee system.

"For the riders, it's a better deal than it was before," Chuck Carmer, 79, said after completing a round at Mount Pleasant this week. "You've got so many people playing, the carts speed the play up if they're properly supervised."

At the clubhouse at Lake Clifton, William Macomber, 68, a Gashouse Gang member, called out good-naturedly to some of the grousing golfers, "Those walkers, they're too slow."

"We kid the hell out of those guys," he said. "They don't hold you up [on the course] on purpose. But it does take longer to walk and play than ride and play."

Golf pros Mark Paolini at Lake Clifton and Jim Deck at Mount Pleasant point out that even under the new rule, a foursome of walkers can take one two-person cart, with one player driving and the others walking.

That's what Al Medlin, 52, a three-handicap golfer and part-time cashier at the Lake Clifton course, does with his weekend foursome. Even so, he said, it's not the same.

"I'm used to walking and carrying my bag," said Medlin. "You play better when you walk. It gives you more feel for the course. I think you're concentrating on your game."

Ron Smith, 63, of the Gashouse Gang tries to walk the front nine and have his partner walk the back nine.

"My cardiologist wants me to walk," he said. "She told me to walk every time I could."

Bob Pruitt said many groups of four former walkers wind up taking a second cart. "You're not going to walk if you paid $14.50 to ride," he said.

But they don't like it.

"It changes our game. It's less social," said Pruitt, 64. "But the main thing is, we have no choice. All of us that walk want to walk for the exercise. Now, they force riding on us."

Curtis Pendleton agreed.

"You got guys who can't walk, fine," said Pendleton, 63. "I want to walk. I've had a back operation. I like to walk for the exercise. I try to walk over a mile every day.

"It's not about the money. It's the principle. They forbid you to play golf the way you want to play golf."

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